John Stezaker

In the past few years, photo artist John Stezaker has had something of an art-world zeitgeist moment—which is both deserved and a bit belated, as the 63-year-old artist’s career has spanned more than four decades. Stezaker’s most notable works involve the manipulation of archival film stock images—particularly black-and-white actor headshots circa the 1940s. Through collage, fragmentation, merging strangely accordant figures and planes, and even occasionally gluing a dissonant postcard overtop a face, Stezaker’s small-scale works achieve a hyper-imposed friction in which the artist operates as both savior (salvaging long-forgotten photography) and destroyer (literally slicing and distorting the images into violent contradictions). “There used to be a variety of shops you could buy the film images from,” says Stezaker. “They came into the market through junk shops and book stores. But when the big-screen cinemas started to close in the mid-’70s, in favor of the multiplexes, that kind of photography disappeared.” In one of the basement offices of Stezaker’s terrace house in Camden is an entire wall devoted to a stock-film archive that he purchased in bulk when one of those image banks went out of business. Stezaker’s predilection is for mainstream cinematic images: “The ones shot by a particular photographer that most collectors want are useless to me,” he says. “I use the standardized, technical images that were printed a hundred-thousand times over. I feel at liberty to cut them up.” While Stezaker, who taught visual art at Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art and was one of those shaman-like teachers to several generations of British artists before retiring in 2005, possesses a method that could be traced to the ’70s and ’80s appropriation movement in American art, he’s more aligned with a European sensibility that stretches from dada and surrealism to Marcel Broodthaers. “American art has always tried to present itself as a pristine commodity,” he says, but the artist has always felt that his work explored his English roots. Recently, he’s moved from the still sculptural image to “time-based works” that function cinematically. “All films are a collection of images,” he says. His 2012 piece Horse, which shares a subject with English photo pioneer Eadweard Muybridge’s first motion picture of a galloping race horse, consists of 3,600 images of various horses at a side angle that, when projected at 23 frames per second, create one lasting, shifting, familiar and yet hypnotically unreliable animal, as if turning the continuity of Muybridge back on itself.